27 Aug 2015 20:22 IST

Mind your language

Work on your speed of speech, coherence of thought flow and ease of interaction, and business across borders will flow so much better

Doing business, especially internationally, isn’t just about bottom lines and deadlines. It’s also about sharing ideas, and establishing rapport with people from diverse backgrounds. Comfort outside of technical topics is key to building relationships as a global citizen. From experience, I can say that speed, thought flow and interaction are areas where Indians need to focus.

I often have the pleasure of interacting with youngsters from India during a public interaction organised post my presentation titled: Indian Roots, Global Wings. Such interactions are inspiring experiences. At one such meet, I worked with a group of 25-year-old MBA graduates. They were a bunch of knowledgeable, respectful and motivated. At one session, we were role-playing on ‘Attending a Conference.’

“I understand from your name tag that you’re from XYZ institute. What is your field of specialisation?,” a male expat co-facilitator asked one of the female participants.

As the lady launched into all the details of her project, full of acronyms that made no sense to the lay person, I saw a dazed expression on the face of the expat co-facilitator. He was just being polite, trying to get to know the participants a bit better. This is a classic example of what the new generation calls TMI or Too Much Information!

All things BIG and small

TMI is a pitfall that young managers need to avoid. It’s a handy tip to keep in mind, not only in matters of official communication, but also when facing interviews. When the interviewer asks you what your previous area of work was, there’s no need to give him or her all the minute details about your project. It is enough to give the broad outlines – for instance, say “I have worked on a Frequent Flyers programme with Lufthansa.”

On the other hand, there will be occasions when people do need details and won’t be satisfied with the ‘big picture’. If the interviewer asks you about how you went about your project, then do give details. You could say: “I worked with a team to build a database, and then we needed to identify software to recover certain details from that database … and so on.”

Tailor your words to suit the occasion. The context and the response of the questioner should give you clues to how much or how little you need to say.

Optimal speed

Speak at an appropriate speed and accentuate appropriately. I have found that the young people I work with generally have a strong vocabulary in English; it is simply their diction, speed and coherence that need to be fine-tuned.

“We are so used to our own ways of speaking that we are often unaware of how we sound to others. But when we’re talking to a cosmopolitan group, or even to a team drawn from different parts of India, it’s helpful to take a minute to listen to ourselves speak,

Imagine you’re from South India, and you have a team member from Uttar Pradesh. Or, one from Germany. Ask yourself: Would they be able to understand you easily?

I have personally tried to cultivate slower speech and pronounce each word clearly so that now, when speaking to an audience comprising people from different countries or even different parts of India with different levels of exposure, I am understood more easily. But I must confess that when I am in a rush to convey an idea, talking superfast is a trap I fall into every now and then. I’m actively working on it!

F-L-O-W of Thought

Structuring your thoughts is also important in communication. When we speak casually, our thoughts and ideas often tumble out incoherently; sometimes our thoughts are not followed through to the end, there is some interruption, we go off at a tangent, and the main thread of the discussion or subject is lost.

I remember one occasion when we asked a group to make a presentation on the topic ‘Positive traits of Indians’. Each picked one trait. The presenter though, was jumping from one to another haphazardly. We re-did the scene with an acronym to make sense – FAL HI – Indians ‘FAL HI’ on the graph of the world, where ‘F’ stands for flexibility, ‘A’ for adaptability, ‘L’ for loyalty, ‘H’ for hospitality and ‘I’ for intellectually agile. The presentation on this topic was easy and the acronym stayed with the listener.

Non-working Skills

It is often pointed out to IT companies who send employees on-site that at ‘happy hour’ in a local bar, the Indian groups primarily hang out with each other and leave quickly.

Ideally, young managers should develop the art of small talk and build relationships with their peers in other countries.

At the bar, for example, they could pick up a common topic of interest such as Indian beers versus American beers, and build upon it.

So the big picture: work on your speed of speech, coherence of thought flow and ease of interaction, and business across borders will flow so much better.

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